Many of us have the desire to do a job with purpose or meaning, but it gets tricky when we try to define what ‘meaningful’ or ‘purpose’ actually is. Tina Röbel introduces a model that can help you to understand what purpose means to you and when you experience something as meaningful.

The search for meaning

"I want to have the feeling that I am doing something meaningful.”That is the most common sentence I hear from the clients I coach. On one hand, there are an infinite number of solutions to this. For example, there is an innumerable amount of causes worth getting involved in. On the other hand, there is no solution because many people can’t decide which cause they want to commit themselves to.

I have recently come across a model that can clarify things. It is based on scientific research and is described in more detail on the website sinnforschung.org. Here, I have summarized what I personally extracted from the model,

1. Meaning is not objective – meaning is experienced.

Firstly and most importantly, nothing is more meaningful than anything else. Meaning is an individual experience. It can feel meaningful to be a family doctor taking care of daily ailments, but it can also feel meaningless worrying about first world problems rather than saving someone’s life. Those wishing for a meaningful job don’t easily find one. If you want a meaningful job, it is probably most useful to understand how you experience meaning. For that, there is a model.

2. Meaning can be experienced in different areas of your life.

  • Order/Regulation
  • Spirituality
  • Involvement
  • Self love and altruism
  • Self development
  • Meaning

The model shows that there are different areas of your life where you can experience meaning.

Most of us prefer one or two of these areas. For many, perhaps there is an area that is neglected, but everyone is in the position to experience meaning in all areas.

I have slightly changed the names of the areas that are used in the model because I find them easier to understand like this. Here are a few short descriptions to help you to decide the areas that are most important for you or where you would like to make some changes.

  • Self development: In this area, meaning is experienced through knowledge, freedom, achievement, strength, creativity and challenges. The focus is on you.
  • Involvement: In contrast to self development, the focus here is on values that are bigger than yourself. Meaning can be achieved by getting involved in causes for others, for a social purpose or for your own health.
  • Self love and altruism: This area has two aspects. It’s about fulfilling relationships with other people such as loving and feeling connected to others. It’s also about the quality of your everyday experience which can be described with words like mindfulness, joy and harmony.
  • Spirituality: In this area, meaning is experienced through religion or spirituality. The focus is on the idea that your life is connected to something much bigger.
  • Order/Regulation: This area relates to traditions, morals and reason. Meaning can be experienced through wanting to uphold a personal code.

If you want, take a minute to reflect. What were you thinking about while you read it? What did you feel? Do you realize anything new about yourself?

3. The more areas you experience meaning in, the more fulfilled you will be.

As I have said, we all have different preferences when it comes to meaning. In one area, we can experience a considerable amount of meaning, and in other areas, less. The crux of it, according to research, is that you feel particularly fulfilled if you experience meaning in all five areas. Can you imagine experiencing more meaning in some areas? What can you do about it?

Treat yourself to a bit of meaningful mind-mapping. Print out or copy the model. Write bullet points alongside it such as keywords for what the different areas concretely mean for you. Maybe you can also prioritize the areas in which you experience meaning the most. Hang it on the wall, take a few steps back and create a list with at least thirty specific ways that you can experience more meaning.

Have lots of fun doing it.

About the author

Tina Röbel works as a systematic coach with people who want to reach more that the next step on their career ladder. She works at the intersection of character development and meaningful life building. Her focus points are reorientation, life-balance and leadership. To find out how Tina can personally support you, send her a request for a phone call, free of charge.